Is Fasting Necessary?
Fasting, or abstaining from
food for spiritual purposes, is a practice often misunderstood by
Christians. Since it is natural in times of great grief to lose the
appetite, some have concluded that this is the fasting Jesus expected of
his disciples after his departure. (Matthew 6:6-18; Matthew 9:14; Mark
2: 18-20 and Luke 5:35).
Some religious groups have set aside seasons and days when their
followers are expected to refrain from eating or are to refuse to eat
certain foods. Perhaps these practices have added to the confusion of
Christians thinking on the subject of fasting.
History indicates that man in all ages and among all nations has engaged
in fasting. It has been used for many purposes including ceremonials,
mourning, or as an aid to building self-control and as a method for
gaining spiritual strength. The late Mahatma Gandi gained world
attention through his extensive fasting. It has been used by both groups
and individuals and is widely practiced today. Many groups have found
"hunger strikes" more powerful than violence in obtaining their
purposes. Recently a group of teenagers did without food for 24 hours in
order to gain understanding of the hungry populations of the world, The
money they saved on their food was then sent to rescue missions in
India. Many Christians today have experienced the blessings that can
come only to one who has dedicated a season to fasting and prayer to
Biblical examples of fasting indicate that it was only once commanded as
a regular ritual, on the day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27) but it was
practiced by God's people both individually and in groups. Sometimes it
was commanded by leaders, sometimes it was voluntary. God's people
fasted for many purposes; David, to humble his soul, to entreat God in
behalf of his sick son, for his enemies and in mourning for the death of
Saul and his sons. In times of great crisis, the children of God usually
turned to their Father, confessing their sins, praying and fasting,
entreating his favour; and the Scriptures indicate that God usually
blessed them. In one case, that of the Nenevites, he even repented and
changed his plans for destroying them.
Fasting was habitual for John's disciples (Matthew 9:14), for Anna (Luke
2:36-37) the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14), Cornelius (Acts 10:30) and for
Paul (II Corinthians 6:5, 11:27). Jesus fasted for forty days and nights
and told the disciples of John that his disciples would fast when the
bridegroom was taken from them. (Matthew 9:15). Apparently, fasting
alone does not move God, for in Isaiah 58:3-9 the people asked "Why have
we fasted, and thou seest it not?", and the answer is given: "Behold you
fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting
like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high." Again
in Jeremiah 14:12, the Lord said: "though they fast, I will not hear
their cry". Here the Lord's people had turned to wickedness and the
prophet was asked to refrain even from praying for them. In Zechariah
7:5, their fasting was lost because of wickedness. Thus, fasting is not
a substitute for righteousness.
Fasting, like any other act of devotion can be empty and for show only,
hence the Pharisee of Luke 18:12 who fasted twice a week was not
justified. Jesus condemns as hypocrites those who wear a sad countenance
that they may appear to men to fast (Matthew 6:16).
It is easy to understand why fasting is not popular today. With so much
emphasis on pleasure and self indulgence as constituting the good life,
any appeal to self-denial is unpopular. Eating has been regarded as one
of the nations greatest problems, especially eating for enjoyment. This
very condition actually enhances the value of fasting for a person with
this attitude if he could be persuaded to try it.
The physical aspect of fasting is beyond the scope of this lesson.
Health and body condition is such a highly individualized matter, that
its results cannot be generalized. There are few, if any, however, who
could not leave off a meal now and then to the benefit of their physical
Fasting, like prayer, may bring blessings to the participant apart from
the special blessings bestowed by the Heavenly Father. For the person
who would gain in self-control it is excellent practice. It may
contribute to weight control and economy of time and food cost, but like
prayer, Jesus taught that its greatest benefit would come from the
special blessings of God.
Perhaps our strongest New Testament teaching on the subject is from the
Sermon on the mount when Jesus was teaching that we should be careful
not to make a show of our religion before men. When we do an act of
charity, pray, or fast, they should be done without public attention,
and with each of these it is stated that, "your Father who sees what is
done in secret will regard you" Matthew 6:1-8). Doesn't it seem likely
that he expected his followers to fast since he gave them instructions
for the proper way to conduct it?
Christians today would do well to consider fasting as a means of drawing
closer to God, or gaining spiritual strength. It is not a command, it is
a privileges In times of great stress it is a way of communicating with
the Lord, and if it is sincere and dedicated to God, it will be regarded
by him. (Matthew 6:18).
( courtesy www.bible.ca )
Is Fasting Necessary?
For Christians, fasting is not a duty but a delight. Going without meals
allows them to express their fulfilment in God rather than food. While
fasting merits neither God’s favour nor a place in paradise, many
Christians fast for one of the following reasons:
* demonstrate their satisfaction in God alone (Luke 4:4)
* humble themselves before God (Daniel 9:3; 10:12)
* request God’s help (2 Samuel 12:16; Esther 4:16; Ezra 8:23)
* seek God’s will (Acts 13:2-3)
* turn from sin (Jonah 3:5-10; 1 Kings 21:25-29)
* worship God without distractions (Luke 2:36-38)
Although Jesus encouraged fasting, He specified neither when nor
how long to fast. The religious leaders of Jesus day prided themselves
in fasting twice a week, but Jesus challenged their sincerity.
Christians follow His example.
Jesus' example of fasting
At the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, before His great miracles and
teaching, He fasted forty days! Afterwards, the devil tested Jesus while
He was weak with hunger: “And after fasting forty days and forty nights,
he was hungry. . . . Again, the Devil took Him up into a very high
mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall
down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is
written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall
serve."’ Then the Devil left him. And behold, angels came and ministered
to Him” (Matthew 4:2, 8-11).
Although Satan tempted Jesus to sin, Jesus remained perfect, unlike all
other human beings in history.
Jesus' warning against prideful fasting
* Don’t fast to appear religious before men
"And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they
disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I
say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint
your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by
others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in
secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
* Don’t fast to earn forgiveness of sin
(Pharisee = one who belonged to a religious, fundamental sect of the
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that
I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like
this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I
get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up
his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to
me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified,
rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:11-14).Jesus
taught that we cannot earn entrance to paradise through fasting. Our sin
renders our best religious deeds unworthy.
Jesus' transformation of fasting (Mark 2:18-22)
Jesus taught that following God’s holy will brings more satisfaction
than eating: “. . . His disciples were asking Him, saying, ‘Master,
eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat which you do not know.’
Therefore the disciples said to one another, ‘No one brought Him
anything to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him
who sent Me and to finish His work’” (John 4:31-34).
What is God’s will and work? “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of
life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes on Me
shall never thirst. But I said to you that you also have seen Me and do
not believe. All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one
who comes to Me I will in no way cast out. For I came down from Heaven,
not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the
will of the Father who sent Me, that of all which He has given Me I
should lose nothing but should raise it up again at the last day. And
this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and
believes on Him should have everlasting life. And I will raise him up at
the last day’” (John 6:35-40).
Just as we will die if we don’t eat bread, we will die spiritually (i.e.
separated from God eternally in hell) if we don’t receive Jesus, the
Bread of Life. Because He came “down from Heaven”, born of a virgin,
Jesus called God His Father. Jesus proved by His perfect life, death,
and resurrection that He is divine, God’s Son. Jesus Christ fulfilled
His Father’s will: saving sinners by taking their punishment on the
cross. By raising Jesus from the dead, God showed that He accepted
How do you receive the Bread of Life? You must turn from sin and trust
in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save you – not your own goodness
through works such as fasting.
After saving you from sin, Jesus gives you the desire and strength to
glorify God through good works such as fasting: “But now, being made
free from sin, and having become slaves to God, you have your fruit to
holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”
I want fasting to. . .
* be an honest statement of what is most important to me. I want this
simple act (going without food for awhile) to remind me that spiritual
things are more important than things of the body; things of eternity,
not of temporal things.
* be a symbol of the satisfaction I’m finding in God Himself: loving
Him, learning of Him, doing His will.
* be a celebration of God’s setting me apart, granting me forgiveness
through the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and rescuing me from the
sinful habits that were enslaving me.
* I want such times of self-restraint to be times of gladness, praise,
and intercession on behalf of my family and friends in many countries.
The Lord Jesus said, "And your Father. . . will reward you" (Matthew
6:18b). I desire that the simple act of fasting may result in a deeper
contentment in the Lord. Thus rewarded, I will be more motivated and
better able to share my material and spiritual gifts with others.